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Industrial Pollutants in Vegans

Why vegans appear “significantly less polluted” than omnivores, but not as toxin-free as expected.

December 3, 2010 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited


Image thanks to Daniel Catt.


What is the impact of adopting a vegan diet on the concentrations of organochlorine in the blood. What are organochlorines? Organochlorines are chemical products that were widely used after World War II as insecticides and in industry. In the 1960s, their adverse effects for the environment and human health began to be known, and in the 1970s their use was banned in most industrialized countries, including the United States. However, because they are so resistant to degradation, many of these persistent organic pollutants continue to be present in most food chains worldwide. Furthermore, because they are attracted to fat, these chemicals accumulate in the fat tissue of organisms. Being at the top of the food chain, humans are contaminated via food, in infancy from what their mom’s ate and later from animal products such as fish, meat and dairy products.
But vegans don’t eat any animal products which are the main source of these toxic pollutants, so their exposure to these compounds should theoretically be lower than that of non-vegetarians. There are studies showing lower concentrations in the breast milk or fat tissue of vegetarians, but what about vegans?
So they ran the experiement, and found that vegans were significantly less polluted then omnivores regarding a whole list of carcinogenic industrial toxins and pesticides—even after controlling for age and weight, which makes the difference in contamination even more dramatic because of course the vegans had less body fat.
What surprised them was that the vegans had as much as they did. Here’s the data. As you can see, there’s certainly lower levels among vegans compared to omnivores, but why isn’t there an even bigger spread? The researchers offered a number of explanations. The vegans may have been breastfed as infants, and thus exposed to organochlorines accumulated by their mother, which are then transferred to her baby at the time of lactation. And most vegans aren’t vegan from birth. Becoming vegetarian or vegan is often a decision made in adulthood. Thus, the omnivore diet followed during childhood and adolescence results in a contamination by accumulated organochlorine compounds.
In addition, vegans may, on rare occasions, depart from their diet and eat some animal products, and contaminate themselves that way.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

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Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out the other videos on industrial toxins. Also, there are 1,686 other subjects covered in the rest of my videos--please feel free to explore them as well!

For some context, please check out my associated blog posts: EPA dioxin limit has National Chicken Council worried products could be declared “unfit for consumption”Eating Green to Prevent Cancer How To Reduce Dietary Antibiotic IntakeAvoid Cooked Meat Carcinogens, and Avoiding Dairy to Prevent Parkinson's

If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out the other videos on industrial toxins. Also, there are 1,449 other subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them as well!

    And check out my associated blog post EPA dioxin limit has National Chicken Council worried products could be declared “unfit for consumption”.

  • Tan Truong

    I suspected this. Great find!

  • jeff swanson

    How much can we detox these chemicals by donating blood?

    • Don Forrester MD

      Since most of these chemicals are fat soluble donating blood would be helpful but not significant. Your body tends to rid itself of these substances slowly over time. The best way to “detox” is to stop the input of these substances and letting the body rid itself of the chemicals via regular metabolism courtesy of liver, kidney which work 24 hours a day to rid ourselves of unwanted substances. This can take some time as the half life(time to rid the body of one half of it’s toxic load) can be years. For instance dioxin one of the most carcinogenic substance known see…… is estimated to have a half life of 6-7 years. So while your body is working to get rid of these chemicals it is best to minimize exposure by going on plant based diet… organic is best… avoiding GMO’s seems like a good idea as well. Of course giving blood does lower the bodies iron load which has benefits in normal persons see… and Blood donation also does a valuable community service. Medicine is not transfusing as much blood as we used in the past for a variety of reasons but when folks need blood it can be life saving.

  • Christian Laf

    In relation to this toxicity, would there be any benefit to following some of the more popular “Detox” diets or something like Chelation therapy?
    A friend of mine was a machinist working on marine brass and years later he found he was intoxicated with Lead and had to follow a Chelation therapy which apparently resolved the issue. However, I am not sure how this works or if it would accomplish anything with respect to the toxins discussed here.

  • Ariel Gail MacLean

    I have searched your wonderful website but cannot see any references to the safety and effectiveness of Krill supplement. If one wishes to continue supplementing an already high plant, green drink, and primarily vegetarian diet with a supplement for Omega 3, is Krill a bad choice? I reduced all my bad stats so dramatically in such a short time through multiple dietary changes inc Green Drinks, 4xs increase in daily colored vegetables, and also by adding the highest quality Cod Liver Oil, that I am afraid to eliminate completely all animal / fish oil types of supplements because I am not sure what did the trick so well and so fast.